Some young talent forced to wait in wings
Promising prospects back in Minors, blocked by teams' depth
Ask anyone in baseball and they'll tell you about the only "good" problem to have.
It's called organizational depth, and when you've got it, you're set.
You can stand pat and win games, be it now or next year or three years down the road. You can make trades to get even better because you possess valuable commodities that are needed to attain other valuable commodities. You can be creative and move players around the diamond to new positions to get your best talent on the field, one way or another.
And, in the case of many teams in the Major Leagues right now, you can afford to be patient with your best prospects.
But while it might be easy for executives and coaching staffs to run a big league team while monitoring those in the Minor Leagues, it can be difficult on the players whose futures are yet to be written. And it can be difficult for the fans who believe that those guys should be in the big leagues now -- because they're better than the veterans occupying their spaces in lineups.
It's called being a blocked prospect, and it might be a "good" problem, but if teams wait too long, it can turn into a real problem. Here are a few examples of prospects who appear to be blocked.
Mike Trout, Angels: Trout, who was ranked prior to this year by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, has watched his parent club keep Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Bobby Abreu in the outfield mix while he embarked on a season that has begun at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Trout has the advantage of being only 20 years old, and he did get a Major League look last year, hitting five homers and driving in 16 runs while batting .220 in 123 at-bats. The Angels still love Trout, who has five-tool potential, but he had a nasty virus entering Spring Training that caused him to lose 20 pounds, experienced shoulder tendinitis and never quite caught up. Then again, with high-priced talent such as Wells, Hunter and Abreu sharing at-bats, Trout likely wasn't going to make the big club anyway.
"Obviously, your goal is to get to the big leagues," Trout said. "But I guess I'll go to Salt Lake and try to put up some good numbers, win some games and have some fun."
It's the right attitude to have, especially for a 20-year-old, and especially when Wells, who hit .218 last year, is on the books for three more years at $21 million per season. The Angels can wait on Trout, but how much longer will they wait?
"He's had a lot of pressure and expectations put on him, but he's handled it well," Bourjos said when Trout was sent down. "I think obviously he's disappointed, but he's going to have a long career. He's such an impressive player and athlete, and this is just a little bump in the road."
Yasmani Grandal, Padres: Grandal is a 23-year-old catcher who jumped from Single-A to Triple-A in the Reds system before being shipped to the Padres over the winter in the Mat Latos deal. The Padres love his power potential, they love his defensive potential, and they love his work ethic. But since he has barely 400 at-bats in the Minor Leagues, the team prefers to have him develop at Triple-A Tucson this year.
And then there's the fact that San Diego just announced a three-year extension that will guarantee their starting catcher, Nick Hundley, $9 million through 2014. That means San Diego will go with a veteran while continuing to wait for Grandal to develop.
"To the extent we have too much catching, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said. "It seems like teams have that on paper, but a lot of things happen where it never turns out that way.
"I don't view it as an overcrowded situation. It might be that one day, but at this point, no."
Alex Cobb/Chris Archer/Alex Torres, Rays: Tampa Bay is so deep in the starting pitching department that Wade Davis is in its bullpen and Cobb, Archer (No. 74 on MLB.com's top 100) and Torres, all of whom are on a quick rise through the system, are still in the Minors.
Cobb actually made nine starts for the Rays last year over three stints with the big club, and he fared well, going 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA before his season was cut short in August because of a blood clot and blockage in the area of his first right rib. The Rays still like him, and they still like Archer and the left-hander Torres, who appeared in four Major League games as a reliever last year, but with a staff as young and good as the Rays' big league rotation, it remains to be seen how general manager Andrew Friedman will play his many hands.
"It's frustrating," Cobb said. "I [jokingly] told them it stinks being in this organization at this time. But if I wasn't in this organization, I wouldn't be the pitcher I am right now. I might not have even had the opportunity to be the pitcher I am, so it's Catch-22. If you want to be [upset] and focus on these few months not being in the big leagues, you can. But I just don't see the reason of being too upset about it right now."
Matt Adams, Cardinals: There's a lot to like about Adams. He's big -- 6-foot-3, 230 pounds -- and he can hit. Last year, he hit for power, with 32 homers and 101 RBIs in Double-A.
The Cardinals are set for now at first base with veteran Lance Berkman, who moved in from the outfield to replace the departed Albert Pujols. Adams will turn 24 in August, but the Cardinals must figure that they would be stalling his development if they called him up to the big-league roster for a bench role and didn't let him get everyday at-bats in Triple-A.
"He's impressed a lot of people," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "His makeup, the way he's gone about things, the work he's put in, it's just been real impressive. The talent is there; I don't think anybody has doubted that."
Nathan Eovaldi, Dodgers: Eovaldi, who turned 22 in February, appeared in 10 games with the Dodgers last year, starting six and putting up a respectable 3.63 ERA, and pitched well this spring. So why is he in Double-A?
Well, this is why: The Dodgers signed veterans Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to fill out a rotation fronted by last year's National League Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, plus valuable veterans Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, who should return from the disabled list in short order. Eovaldi is surely in the mix for a promotion if one of the horses suffers an injury, so for now he's in a regular routine as he bides his time, and, like all of these blocked prospects, tries to keep it all in perspective.
"I just try to keep getting better," Eovaldi said. "I'm glad they're giving me starts. Just the fact they've gotten me in as much as they have is good."